The Importance of Long, Boring Ceremonies

This sheet on Numbers 7 was written by Avidan Freedman for 929 and can also be found here

Chapter 7 makes me think of graduation ceremonies. For some, they are insufferably long, hours and hours of waiting to snap that one fuzzy picture of that one special person among hundreds or thousands that you came for. Does everyone really need their name called? Can't we cut to the chase here?

A similar feeling of futility might fill you as you read today's chapter. Do we really need all this repetition, everyone asks? Are we going to go through that whole list again?

In both cases, the frustration is a question of perspective taking. Prince #8 wasn't bored by his own gift- for him, it was the moment he had been waiting for. He wouldn't give up on it for the world. For Prince #2, though, it already seemed rather redundant. At graduation, no one would want their own loved one's moment cut short. Just those of all those other guys.

But, as Rabbi Hanoch Teller pithily puts it, to the other guy, YOU are the other guy. The ability to recognize and honor that insight is an essential part of creating a community. Ideally, every member of a community would feel genuine joy at the joy of another. But even when that's not possible, the most minimal requirement of community building is the willingness of each member to suffer boredom so that another can celebrate. If you're not willing to do that, you don't have a community. You have a large group of very fidgety individuals.

As the Jewish people ready their camp, this is the lesson we learn from the longest, most repetitive, most boring chapter in the Torah. So take a deep breath, sit back, and savor your boredom. Your community depends on it.

(ב) וַיַּקְרִ֙יבוּ֙ נְשִׂיאֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל רָאשֵׁ֖י בֵּ֣ית אֲבֹתָ֑ם הֵ֚ם נְשִׂיאֵ֣י הַמַּטֹּ֔ת הֵ֥ם הָעֹמְדִ֖ים עַל־הַפְּקֻדִֽים׃ (ג) וַיָּבִ֨יאוּ אֶת־קׇרְבָּנָ֜ם לִפְנֵ֣י יְהֹוָ֗ה שֵׁשׁ־עֶגְלֹ֥ת צָב֙ וּשְׁנֵ֣י עָשָׂ֣ר בָּקָ֔ר עֲגָלָ֛ה עַל־שְׁנֵ֥י הַנְּשִׂאִ֖ים וְשׁ֣וֹר לְאֶחָ֑ד וַיַּקְרִ֥יבוּ אוֹתָ֖ם לִפְנֵ֥י הַמִּשְׁכָּֽן׃
(2) the chieftains of Israel, the heads of ancestral houses, namely, the chieftains of the tribes, those who were in charge of enrollment, drew near (3) and brought their offering before the LORD: six draught carts and twelve oxen, a cart for every two chieftains and an ox for each one. When they had brought them before the Tabernacle,

Rabbi Avidan Freedman is the Rabbi of Hevruta, the Shalom Hartman Institute's post high school program for Israelis and North Americans, and an educator in the institute's high school.

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